Saturday, September 30, 2006

Randomly Read

Randomly Read: Short Stories
An entry in the Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Autumn Challenge


Note that each link above takes you to the full text of the stories at a variety of sites, some of which have ads.

Copyright: Each of the ten short stories listed above has fallen into the public domain. Of the stories listed above, all but one is available in a print edition of the much famed anthology The Haunted Looking Glass, illustrated by Edward Gorey (link to work in LibraryThing). The story, The Mezzotint, is the work not included in that book.

Length: Each of these qualifies as a short or short, short story. Readable in very short time-spans, such as a lunch-hour or 20-minute train commute. And some of them qualify as scary even in those daylight settings! All of them qualify as being relatively creepy.

Genre: Victorian gothic/ghost stories.

Summary: Reading Elizabeth Gaskell and then also reading what Stainless Steel Carl V had to say about The Haunted Looking Glass led me to track down some of the above stories. Something about the nineteenth century fosters elegant horror and ghost stories. I had, of course, read other works by E. Nesbit, Wilkie Collins and Bram Stoker but I hadn't read any of these stories before. Each has something to recommend it - whether due to atmospheric tone (The Empty House), the sheer creepiness of the characters (Casting The Runes, The Dream Woman) or the novelty of the idea (August Heat, The Mezzotint, and The Thirteenth Tree).

Eerie/Creepy Quotient:
On a scale of 1-5, with five being the most effectively scary and/or horrific score possible, top honors would go to Harvey's August Heat and Collins' The Dream Woman. I don't think I'll readily shake those stories off this autumn. They're quite memorable. Close behind would be The Judge's House by Bram Stoker. Don't read that one if you live alone in a house old enough to have mice in the walls. You'll not sleep well again for quite some time. The remaining stories were all approximately ranked 3 or 3.5. Scary enough that I wouldn't hand them to a child under the age of 9, but quite satisfying to readers able to enjoy a little suspense and able to handle the sentence structure characteristic of the nineteenth century. Actually, now that I think of it, the stories are each short enough that the sentence structure shouldn't really be that intimidating to the reader. Most young-adult readers would get the general gist (and that sense of delicious horror that accompanies scaring oneself) even if they didn't read each line closely.

Also Relevant: Hard on the heels of reading The Monkey's Paw, it occurred to me that these stories are closely related to the folklore and fairy tales that I had been reading. The Monkey's Paw is just a scary version of the story of The Old Fisherman and His Wife . In gratitude to the fisherman throwing a magic fish back into the ocean after ensnaring him in his net, the fish agrees to grant the man several wishes. The fisherman's wife starts out with small requests (a decent cottage to live in), graduates to much more outrageous wishes (she becomes Pope in the version that I read as a child - see link above) and finally she wishes to be control the rising of the sun and the mood (ie., be God). When the fish hears that demand, he sends the Fisherman back to his wife where he finds her sitting in the hovel that was theirs at the beginning of the story. The ending in Paw is very different and not nearly as didactic in tone, but the motif was certainly present.